Interview - Alfred Spiess and Kurt Franz


SPIESS


Alfred Spiess - German State Prosecutor USHMM)


kurt franz066

Kurt Franz on the left in a wartime photo (HHS Photo Archive)


The interview that follows was first shown on the German Television WDR network in 1998, as part of the programme called Judenmord. It was conducted by Alfred Speiss, the German State Prosecutor at the Treblinka Trial during the mid-1960's and the former Commandant of the Treblinka death camp, who oversaw the liquidation of the camp:

Alfred Spiess: (referred to as AS for the rest of the interview):   Mr Franz wasn't it obvious that Treblinka was an extermination camp?

Kurt Franz:  (referred to KF for the rest of the interview) Yes

AS: A camp where......

KF: Yes, people died there, or were killed.

AS: By gassing?

KF: By gassing

At this point in the interview Kurt Franz looks over a large scale drawing of the camp, as seen in the background of the Alfred Spiess photograph.

KF: Here she is... the camp has been sketched..... The people were driven into the camp in wagons right here. I believe it was around twenty wagons which came in. That's roughly how it must have been. And then the doors were opened, by Jews, who had been, as I arrived there, already been assigned work duties by Stangl or Eberl. I don't know anymore, never got a chance to work under Eberl.

And then they were unloaded and led along here to this square. I don't remember if there were two barracks here or just this one. I think there were two, here and here. The people were led here and had to undress inside. This is as far as I can accurately describe ...... undress completely.

AS: Undress completely

KF: And then somewhere here there was a room or a corner where the women's hair was shorn. In this corner here. And that was done by Franz Suchomel, who I am very, very angry about, because he blamed me in court. And then the Jews were, and I have to say I did not bear witness to any children anymore, they were led into this so-called 'Tube,' which was completely camouflaged with shrubbery just like everything around the camp. There was even a camouflaging unit tasked by an Unterscharfuhrer. If I am not mistaken his name was Sydow. He was in charge of all that, so that one could not see into the camp.

So the Jews were led up here into the gas chamber and there they were gassed. That's how it happened back then. And that is a fact, and I don't deny that.

AS: Did you see the mounds of corpses?

KF: No. I could in fact have seen, and anyone could indeed have seen this, if I had gone to this area, but it disgusted me. I could not stand seeing people being burned. They were stacked on a grill and cremated. They were burned. They were cremated here.

AS: What happened to the ashes?

KF: Well .... I can't say. I just know that before the grill, before I was stationed, there was no grill here. The grill was put in place by another Unterscharfuhrer. Before, there had been pits here. Here they are. And that's where the corpses had been buried before. With cranes. The corpses were carried from the gas chamber, that's how I see it, and then they were with cranes or excavators, pulled out of the mass graves and stacked onto the cremation grill. . I didn't properly observe it. But those previously buried were then laid onto the grill, and then cremated. And then sieves or sifts were put in place, and the ash was sifted through. And the cruder stuff was then broken up or crushed, so that all of it.....

AS: Disappear?

KF: Disappear

AS: How was the gas produced?

KF: Well, as far as I know, I did not see it, but I know that there was somehow a French truck, if I am not mistaken, it was a Saurer or Saurer motor. And the exhaust was pumped into the chambers wasn't it. The chambers were located on this side.

AS: How long did the people suffer in there?

KF: You know, even I can't really say..... I was told.... there was talk about .... you know for ... ten minutes, but I can't really say. I wasn't in charge up there. There was an Oberscharfuhrer ... well he wasn't really an Oberscharfuhrer, more something of an Oberwachtmeister. The people in Treblinka had all been police officers. Matthes was in charge. While in Belzec, back in the day, Johann Niemann did the work done in Treblinka by this Matthes.

AS: So you saw the gassing in these two camps?

KF; Well, not directly saw but I know it took place. I know that it happened. They didn't dispatch me to Treblinka with the purpose of showing it to me, all of it was top secret, hence all this camouflage fencing. But I knew about it. I saw it, and I was outraged. Even back in Belzec, and in Belzec, back in the day, I even protested to a Standartenfuhrer who had come from Marburg, to somehow investigate .... or perhaps because they were trying out a new gas, or capsules... or what do I know, for the extermination.... by the way there was another Unter or Obersturmbannfuhrer back then, I don't remember what his name was. He was also there, I don't remember those two names anymore. But back in Belzec I was ...... I even approached the Standartenfuhrer and requested to be transferred away. Me and Jirrmann.

AS; You didn't want to participate?

KF; i didn't want to take part, and that was the death sentence for Jirmann. And for Aleksejew, the Ukrainian, who was then shot.

AS; Did you know someone from the SS called Vorunkel?

KF: Who?

AS; Vorunkel, SS. A certain Bose. He was in the SS, he didn't want to participate, and he was transferred away. Did you know him?

KF; Not in Treblinka. No never heard of Vorunkel. Don't know him.

AS: You said they cut the women's hair. Yes, wasn't there the Goldjuden, who obtained the gold, the dentists who pulled out the teeth ..... do you know that?

KF: i heard about that. But I did not see it. You see I wasn't in charge of all that. That was an internal issue. Up here Matthes was the guy in charge. Here where the labour Jews were quartered.

AS: Where was that again?

KF: No here. Here's where the Jews were quartered. Kuttner was in charge there. And I was in charge of the guards and their shifts. And that was here. It was split up that way. And Kuttner would not have listened to anything I had to say. Kuttner was back then Chief of Police already.

AS: Yes - the highest rank.

AS: Did you see how the items such as clothes were delivered, the gold?

KF; Here .... in the barrack right here, all the items were sorted.This was the sorting barracks, near the train platform. And the clothes, they lay in heaps right here, and the work-Jews just sorted them. The spectacles, the stuff was sorted,one could see it without problems. Right here in the square.

AS: The German squad, what class of forces did they belong to?

KF; in Treblinka it was police with a few exceptions. People had been working in the Allgemeine -SS and Waffen-SS. There was only a record keeper and just me. I was from the Waffen-SS. . Then there was a man called Willi Matzig. We called him 'Bubi.' He was a record keeper . He was in charge. Also from the Waffen-SS.

AS; And the other were Ukrainians?

KF: All of them were Ukrainians. And then there were German speaking ... you can't call them Ukrainians.

AS; Volksdeutsche?

KF; i wouldn't even say that, they used to live in Russia. Beyond the Urals. There were people who spoke in a perfect dialect, like the Wurttenbergers. They had settled there since their parents or grandparents. But they spoke in a flawless German. They were - yes maybe they were Volksdeutsche. We would have called them Balte-Germanen earlier. That's how it was.

AS; Mr Franz, half a century has passed. These mass murders occurred half a century ago, what's your take?

KF; If i had known back in the day what would await me, when I transferred from the Wehrmacht to the SS, then I would have never, in any way joined the SS.

AS; Why?

KF; For the simple reason that I cannot bear what I then experienced. This Belzec, and this Treblinka.

AS; Why were people killed there? Were they criminals?

KF: I wouldn't say that because then in Belzec I wouldn't have spoken to this woman  and the daughter of this woman, who pleaded for each other's lives. The daughter pleaded for the life of her mother and the mother for that of her daughter.

AS; Mr Franz why did they kill these people? They were civilians!

KF; Well, ... why... never in my life have I ever had any troubles with Jews. Even though, and I have to emphasise this here, the back then co-plaintiff of the Treblinka trial Dr Josef Neuberger, said that I had, in Dusseldorf, as a young man, been to his house in Huttenstrasse and threatened him. I did not even know that man.

I never had any problems with Jews, for example I even played handball with the Jews in the Ratingen 04/19 club in the Maccabi Dusseldorf stadium. I never had any differences of opinion. To me there was no difference between Catholics or Protestants or Jews. In Ratingen, I had a comrade called Ballach. He owns a restaurant today, the Hubertusstube. He was a friend. For example in Ratingen in the Green Corner, that was the name of this bar, I went as a youngster with my wife, 18 or 19 years old or even younger. I went there with my wife, as the young people that we were, for a dance. A slogan there read: 'Hirsch (Jewish family name) cooks Hirsch (deer). I was friends with that guy, I didn't have any reason to kill these people.

AS; Mr Franz, in Treblinka but also in Belzec, women, men and children were murdered. Thousands and tens of thousands. What went through your mind back then?

KF; I was against it. In the begining in Belzec we didn't even know what was going on. Pits were being dug when I arrived there, there was nothing happening yet. That was in March 1942. So I had no idea. How should I have known? There was the old demarcation line between Austria and Russia. Between Belzec and Rawa Ruska was the border. That I knew. But I had no idea what was supposed to happen. Never! Absolutely never!

Source

WDR Network - Judenmord - December 1998

Photographs - USHMM, Holocaust Historical Society 

Holocaust Historical Society, November 13, 2020